Ireland “couldn’t even fathom” French characterisation of Johnny Sexton as a “big-time” personality in the Zlatan Ibrahimovic mould, according to lock Devin Toner.
Leinster lock Toner completely rejected French claims Sexton threw his weight around at Racing Metro, making more enemies than friends in his two-year spell at the Parisian club.
Racing coach Laurent Labit has branded both himself and Sexton as failures for the British and Irish Lions playmaker’s inability to forge a long-term career across the Channel.
Sexton has returned to home province Leinster this summer, with unnamed Racing sources likening his behaviour to temperamental Sweden striker Ibrahimovic at Paris St Germain.
“Well, we couldn’t even fathom him behaving like that,” said Toner, nonplussed by claims Sexton was difficult to get on with at Racing Metro.
“He’s just another player with us, he’s not big-time. He’s the 10 who runs the show but that’s what we want.
“He’s not big-headed, he’s a very down-to-earth guy so we don’t recognise that at all.
“He’s the same as he was before he went to France. I’ve played with Sexto since schools rugby so I’m pretty used to it to be honest.
“They mustn’t have been used to that in France, but it’s a hugely positive thing for the team if lads aren’t getting their roles right.
“He’s not going to do it for the sake of it, he’ll be doing it because there’s a reason behind it. It will be because lads aren’t in the right position or knowing their roles, so I think it’s hugely positive for the team.
“Obviously they weren’t used to it, but we’re glad to have him back to be honest.
“I think he grew into being that kind of leader. Back when we were playing schools rugby he probably wasn’t as dominant, but now he’s older and he’s learned the game and grown into it.”
Toner hinted France may be trying to destabilise Ireland’s main operator Sexton ahead of Sunday’s pivotal World Cup clash.
Sunday’s winners will top Pool D and face Argentina in the last eight, avoiding defending champions New Zealand.
Sexton is so integral to Ireland’s approach that France will do all they can to put him off his stride.
Jared Payne trained fully on Wednesday having recovered from his bruised foot, leaving Ireland to select from the full depth of their 31-man World Cup squad to face Les Bleus.
“It’s a hugely positive thing, it’s not a negative at all,” said Toner of Sexton’s demanding professional persona.
“I don’t know whether France are trying to paint it out as a negative picture or not, but it’s 100 per cent not.
“He drives the lads to be better, and you want to be better when you’re playing with him.
“If I’m not in the right place and I hear someone screaming at me, I know I’m not in the right place and I’ll think in my head ’I’ve got to get that right next time’.”